"When are new things good for games?" asks David Braben

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"When are new things good for games?" asks David Braben

David Braben continues his regular monthly column for Develop Magazine where he delves deep into "technology, design, and the murky ground where they cross-over" within the games industry, this time by covering new technologies in the games industry. The article can be read in full on the Frontier website.

Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment.

When are new things good for games?

That is not such a stupid question, especially now, as collectively our industry, or at least some parts of it, seem very poor at judging this. There is a part of our industry, perhaps a bigger part than many of us will acknowledge, that is conservative through and through. Any change is automatically bad, unless it is just an improvement of what we already had before like more polygons, or more buttons on a controller. I can almost hear the rumbles of disagreement, of people discounting themselves mentally from this group, but to some extent it probably applies to all of us.
To be honest no change in the industry is what is helping the indie scene to thrive who wants to keep buying the next FIFA game or EA Sports title. Its originality and creativity that pushes the industry forward.

Games like Spelunky are MUCH more enjoyable than other AAA titles that I have seen of late most of them end up mindless first person shooters, look at RAGE coming soon from Id software its a mindless shooter with 'cars' :s.

On the technology front I think that more cores does 'help' but only if they are used effectively look at Windows as it is now, its slow bogged down by bloat. The competition is as well to get most out of engines these days you have to fight with the system to get resources for your games.

Yeah back in the MS-DOS days you had to fight with drivers etc BUT once setup perfectly everything worked.

I do think that Touch devices are the future, more and more devices are allowing touch functionality and it wont be too long before keyboards are replaced with simple touch devices and functionality. In Windows/OSX/ and Linux along with iPod/iPad/ and iPhone you can have a virtual keyboard on screen this is basically the same functionality as the iPad with this in mind I can see keyboards and mice being replaced with a screen in a few years.

There are loads of iPod games that have virtual joysticks etc on screen all via touch so why have mice etc.
It's that funny place where marketing and exposure start to become such a huge necessity. Introduce vastly new/different stuff without putting it out there first for the consumer to see, and subsequently convince the publishers that it's going to catch on, is always going to be the harder sell.

Introducing a new gaming concept or a new gaming mechanic is always going to be difficult without some form of tech demo or a 'proof of concept'. Being a market innovator puts you in the unenviable place of 'sticking it out there to be cut off'.

Perhaps there is something to be said for creating non specific playable technology demonstrations to gauge the 'Average Joe' gamers response/reaction to an idea rather than attempting to sell it to an intractable 'institutionalised' industry off the cuff...
@ EDzupI disagree,
sure any or most game opinion is they want orginality. But I think that's more something between there ears. And just a wish. But what gamers do buy and game a lot are those non originals sequells from game who proven to be fun and well known and bought alot and played a lot and reality is if gamer liked a game they want more of it.

So they say make something original but play dozens of sequels.

Me to I do wish for orginality but you acualy ask for something unkown wich feels so exciting. But if they do make 9 of 10 10 time it new but doesn't do it for you. There are exception who hit the nail.

So in all they wish for it. But orginality is more a ingredient of risk then a sucses garanty.

So if you come up with something original. Keep in mind a dev is some kind of gamer to. But doesn't represent the masses. So such new thing must be prototyped and play tested to see if it catch on on gamers. And then not those professional testers only but more broad audience to play test on.

I think historical. Wenn a original games came out the dev and publisher expectations where not high but became a sucses as a suprise. There are exception. But that the risk of delivering something original.

For every historical original sucses wich are well known. There is also a lot of original crap wich is forgotten.

So it's risky.
And realy small budged can cary the risk easier. that why indie hobby games can go wild with it.

So wenn are new things good for games?
Well that doesn't mean a original game perse, but also just a new feature.

I think any thing new is also risky it can break a sucses formula but can also make a broken formula right. Or make some good even better.

There are a lot of sequels who offer something new but doesn't work out that well for gamers.
And some sequels are extended so they are better and moving forward.

So in the pressence do I wish for orginality, sure, but it's more curiosity, And I wait for decent reviews before I buy. Because I don't know if I would like it. I have to experience it. Reviews give a decent feel if I could like it.
But I do know what I like what is already out there and is familiar. So I buy similar games good clones and good sequels and have a lot of fun with it SP and online.
My thoughts

New things are worth having when they:
  • Help new players get into the game
    Make the game more immersive by increasing the smoothness of transitions between modes/scenes, or the intelligence of computer opponents
    Introduce other layers to the game that help the player to feel more personally involved.
When I played Elite (on the electron) the 'new thing' that hooked me was the way it caught my imagination, and felt more than just a game - it was personal!

Newer games are far more elaborate but most fail to hook me in the same way as Elite, because they are either too linear or become too 'samey'.
The one exception was multiplayer Descent III
Like with many things this is a multifaceted concern, and like all these other things in life change is always going to happen.

Having said that one aspect i really don't like (either as a gamer or game designer) that has crept to dominance in the games industry is most of the stuff that has sprung up around the term 'social games' or 'casual games'.

Under those very broad umbrella's we have seen a surge in the rise of game design by metrics. That includes everything from your games data-mining your computer for info to the hiring of psychologists that help design systems that prey on the weakness of addictive personalities (hello Zynga :) ).

The growth in this sector of game development has also led to what i call the 'consolification' of gaming, where games are reduced in feature sets and complexity, streamlined or even 'dumbed-down' to hit the lowest common denominator (as determined by some suit in a publishers offices), which ultimately has led to a rather putrid wash of 'samey' games and the demise of the traditional games industry as people have fled the boring, easy to complete and predictable AAA games industry in search of Indie and less 'processed' games.

As an aside this 'dumbing-down' is exactly what we have seen on TV and in the education system, it is the sickness of this generation of 30 somethings ('Thatchers children' generation?), although much of this ideology comes from across the Atlantic.

Gaming the gamer via metrics has become a large part of the current games industry and i feel, as a longtime player and game designer, that this approach aimed at some mathematical formula to increase profits, has in fact had the complete opposite effect (or at least contributed to it). We (the great unwashed computer gamer) are not all mindless drones just willing to shovel whatever drivel is trotted out in front of us. The same kind of situation was going on in the first big computer game crash, greed and complacency alienating the buying gamer public to the extent they stopped trusting the labels of the day and games ceased to be a must have item.

The influence of the (american) movie industry into the games industry has also had it's negative effect, cost have spiraled out of control in the quest of hyper-realism in game graphics, production methods in the movie industry are expensive, and making graphical content for a game is much more expensive than simply shooting a film. Games have reduced in replayability, reduced in game length (over the last decade or so, the 80's was limited by hardware) and the model has become that a new game will give you about a weekends gaming (10-12 hours) for your £60. Which is not bad compared to a movie that gives you about 2 hours for £15. But that's the point really, games are not movies, in the same way they are not books.

I'm very pessimistic about the modern AAA games industry, i think it will probably lose a lot more money than it currently is, and the people involved in it just don't seem to get the 'why' of it, at all. So expect more modern hair-brained schemes such as free-to-play (that ultimately is about exploiting the gamer) and all that stuff associated with the greed of publishers taking over what games are really about (giving enjoyment, entertainment and challenge to the gamer).

What is good that is going to come out of all this fail, is that the Indies will rise to prominence, and more dev studio's will directly approach their customers to fund their projects (as in crowd-funding). These two aspects will see a return to the golden age of games design (circa the 1990's) and a resurgence in all the games that the AAA industry has discarded in it's narrow push for that mathematical 'win the jackpot' formula.

I'm still amazed how the modern game dev process could come up with the new X-com game, which by itself in the sea of junk that is it's contemporary level, is not a bad modern release, but compared to just how loved the original microprose game is (still), it falls way short of that 90's title (even with all it's GUI issues!). We have lost so much in the greed led publisher push for profits over the actual game. Viva la revolution of Indie and crowd-funding :cool:
If only this was a simple question. But with old being passed of as new, and innovation being retracted to appease the whiners, action rpg's having the rpg knocked out of them because the fps crowd winge that rpg's aren't fps enough for them, with competition between the major companies leading to hard to work with architecture, crippling unreliability, or cloning of features, companies pushing a peripheral device so hard that great IP's get ruined to accommodate them, or become unusable with out these peripherals, with gamers' records of completion being incomplete unless they buy the new piece of tat, and then there's uninformed consumers enabling it all by parting with their cash to acquire whatever they are told to, whether it be advertising from the big companies, or little Johnny/Jenny telling Mum, Dad, or Gran that they have to have the latest CoD/Batlefield, & that age ratings mean nothing, or the latest Fifa/NBA/NFL#(insert next year's number for the same game all over again), what remains is a mess in which there is very little genuine 'New', not from the Hardware, or Software, or game concept, and what is new is hard to see amongst the fakery, or quickly gets put to an end, or corrupted.

With an awareness of what goes on in the industry in mind, the next most important consideration when defining what is good for games is the question 'Good for who?' Devs? Publishers? Hardware manufacturers? Critics? Consumers? Casual Gamers? Hardcore Gamers? Units sold? The industry's survival? The Industry's growth? Or the actual quality of the product? Although it is hard to get agreement on what is a quality product beyond freedom from bugs and glitches, my money would have to go squarely with the quality of the product.

So where is the new? How have games changed over the last #of years? The biggest change has to be the growth in online multiplayer for consoles, resolutions, frame rates, DLC, & DRM. The second & third will always happen as long as hardware can crunch numbers faster. DLC(Downloaded Content) could have been a great way to extend the life or replayability of a game, but has 90% of the time become a cynical money grab in return for substandard tat or a compulsion to buy to in order to still possess a complete product. DRM may not be such a new idea. We all know about code books & Lenslock etc. But all things were new sometime, and DRM seems to have exploded over the last 15 years. Personally I find it hard to link DRM to quality of product from the users point of view. More meaningful changes affect gameplay itself.

Mass Effect 1.
Bioware (Pre-EA) Wanted to create a single player RPG on an Epic Scale across 3 games, with mini games that just relied on following a sequence rather than problem solving ability or a level of skill, moral dilemmas, & decisions that had long reaching implications in #1 and into & through it's sequels. For those of us that loved Mass Effect for the games philosophy and it's potential throughout the series. This philosophy was seen as a good thing for the future of games.

Mass Effect 2.
Bioware (EA-owned) Big changes happened here. The Cerberus Network was introduced as an incentive for buying a brand new copy of the game instead of pre-owned, delivering a number of DLC extras for gratis, or a Network pass could be bought separately for those acquiring their disc preowned. This was seen by most as a good move as it took nothing away from the main game. it worked for the Devs and Publishers without upsetting the consumers. Encouragement to buy new was a preferred new approach to the pre-owned industry. Shame is it was never repeated, & became the thin end of a much more insidious wedge.

Changes to gameplay were large also. Basically the appeasers gave in to the (Non-RPG) whiners and the Action RPG Became a shooter with lots of talking in it. Basically from the RPG players standpoint EA saw a bigger profit in selling out to the FPS players. Some basic premises of the ME universe were removed and replaced with some complete excuses. The mini games did though improve. The first of those between games implications were mostly disappointing as they were pretty blunt and obvious. A mixed bag of changes, but the gameplay ones for me were a negative.

Max Payne.
Going a long way back now to the game that first employed 'Bullet Time' Strong narrative via voice over, but the Bullet time was the new & positive contribution. It has been imatated in many forms since from slow time in sniping games to Tequila time in Stranglehold.

Too Human.
Silicon Knights tried to introduce an alternative to button mashing for this much maligned title. Imo the wolves had every intention of slating this game before it even came out. Dennis Dyack famously exploded at the Critics, and rightly so for what I observed. None of them tried to work with the new control system, instead just seeing an opportunity to make a name for themselves with endless unfounded criticism. The game had its faults like the tediously long, unskippable Valkyrie animation at every death. But the new control system was killed off by the critics before it could get out of the gates. For someone that is fatigued with standard button mashing I loved the direction that Silicon Knights took and think that the games industry has harmed itself by rejecting this fresh thinking.

Mirror's Edge.
Another much maligned game that had it's faults, but none of them were what was being levelled at it. It was a pleasure to play, challenging in just the right amounts, and the free running felt awesome. When you found your flow, you could really feel the 'Flow' Many other games have free running elements to them, and it is often compared to the likes of Assassin's Creed, but none of them had free running so distilled that it became the game. Those that complain the loudest often appear to be the one that fall down a lot, through lack of skill, coordination, or timing. I hope to see this level of free running make a return.

Rhythm games.
DDR, Guitar Hero, Rockband, DJ Hero, Band Hero, yadda yadda yadda. The genre itself was a good move in gaming. The introdution of instrument shaped controllers was a good move although reliability was an early problem. I love being able make some seriously kickin' tunes come out of my console, so when this was new it was definately good for games. Unfortunately when it wasn't so new it got over-saturated and drowned in it's own, mostly Activision, cesspool.

A Music game rather than a rhythm game. It took the next step and actually uses your own real electric guitar. It teaches you to play guitar from tuning, to one or two strings all the way up to what ever you can handle. Unfortunately the uptake of this title wasn't very high, and in Europe it's release was retarded by a whole year over legal issues. But the game's use of a real instrument instead of a controller or halfway house is definately a good innovation for games & music.

I was also going to touch on the following but I have a family to look after and this is taking up quite a bit of time:

Playstation Move.
Wii Music.
Online Multiplayer.

But generally I say when it's good for games, that's when Publishers and Critics kill it off. When it's cheap tat that doesn't live up to it's claims, that's when they bring on the hard sell.
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new in games?

how about a true, open world mmo?

i read a lot of posts on a variety of forums about what gamers want.... you have one person saying 'gamers' want this or that or the other. i often wonder... how does the poster know that?

i played elite on a spectrum.... all those years ago (pretty scary eh?) and remember thinking...blimey, this is so different to all the other games. look at this.... i can go where i like - ok so i get wiped a lot but i do not have to follow a set path.
@ Cmdr M.G.Dangerous, excellent post.

I read with interest (but no surprise) that the new Xbox is going to be online only (it was mentioned in Edge magazine). This has always been what the console manufacturers wanted, to make gaming work more like paid-TV, with a monthly subscription on top of the game(+DLC) purchases. It's always been about their control over your entertainment, and their ability to milk you via that control.

It's why i dropped consoles this gen and shifted to PC only, as i could see the money-grab coming and wanted no part of it. As in the 80's crash it is going to be greed of large corporations that will crash the industry this time around, and it is already happening in the AAA space, revenues are way down all across the board.

As you say to survive, the smart money is going to have to go on ensuring you have an actual quality product (in the eye of the customer), rather than a marketed rubbish one. For the Dev to survive this transition period they are going to have to not get all seduced and stary-eyed at the false promises of 'easy money' and the modern design method of gamer exploitation over simply making great games that give back to the gamer and will get them enthused about and keen to support (minecraft is the great modern example).
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@ Cmdr M.G.Dangerous, excellent post.

I read with interest (but no surprise) that the new Xbox is going to be online only (it was mentioned in Edge magazine)...
Claims like this I take with a pinch of salt until I see the actually product released. Partly because there are so many false rumours etc generated, but mostly because It's hard to believe that they would be dumb enough to make such an own throat cutting move.

If this does happen we will end up with two games industries. One will sell crap to fools, the other will cater for gamers. The former will make stupid amounts of profit, while the latter will have appreciative loyal customers receiving a small number of quality IPs, or average IPs at a very low cost. The people served by the latter group will most likely be Valve customers, users of steam, & customers of smaller, for PC, devs.
New things shouldn't be the driving force of the game. It's the vision of either the gameplay, the fun coming from the interaction that should be. New things are usually the means of achieving it and they should be just used accordingly and not forced upon the game, gameplay or gamer just to show how new and modern the developer is. They are tools and tools should be used but as it is with human beings if we get new fancy tool we use it all over the place. Even when the tool cripples us and prevents going further we still go on and try to stick it everywhere. Smaller number of tools usually effects in better results - commonly unexpected but that is what experiments shows.
Also the developers community has its "means" and people just follow the flock - this is what nature makes us to. And last but not least distributors creates a pressure - even if they do not pay you directly they set the "standards" of what is really profittable and what's not. Mediocre developer will just make another FPS in the old legendary setting. Good one might add it as an non-forcing option ...
When new is bad

I guess I'm not really addressing the point but I can tell you when new is bad quite easily. When it's not in there for the benefit of the user but for the assumed benefit of the publisher. DRM schemes and things that require always on connections, however much the publisher tries to dress it up as a way of giving the player a more connected experience. We just end up with downtime and irritation and see right through lie that it's for our benefit.

New control devices such as Kinect and touchscreens might be good for some sort of games but when they're used just for the sake of it, when traditional joypad/mouse+keyboard would work better.

New DLC that costs half the price of the original game but gives a much smaller fraction of the number of hours of gameplay.

And finally this is way off topic as it's an old thing that shouldn't be in new games. Boss fights. I hate them. Yes, I expect final adversaries not to be a pushover but you don't expect Adolf Hitler himself to be tougher than three brigades of the ss combined. What I really about this is you end up having to tune your skills/choice of weapons to suit one encounter than your main gameplay style. What's the point of trying to be a sneaky sniper when there's bits of the game you can only complete by being heavilt armoured with a rocket launcher in each hand.

I think a lot of new good features just appear as emergent gameplay by allowing the player more options.
There is nothing worse than a gadget that adds a frustration that you dont have with the original keyboard and mouse.

I have a touch screen monitor for windows 8.. WHY? I never flipping touch the damn thing, the mouse is quicker.
Keyboard shortcuts get me where I want to be.

I hate new for news sake... what happened to creating solutions to things.
Rather than creating things for problems that dont exist.

Touch screens on laptops... Ideal. Great...
3D glasses for PC games??? Why? this is utterly pure gadgetry and doesn't add enough.. HEAD TRACKING... and 3D well THAT IS a PROPER new thing.

Also I will defend X-com... I liked it... was tough like the original game, plenty of game play... multiplayer is a tad guff.. sorry utterly guff.. its a afterthought..

I hope ED continues to think upfront and plan ahead for what will be a new defination of what gamers want. GAMES!!! That you play not watch.
Stories that surprise not twists on a common story.
and Gadgets that enhance not complicate..

New things are good for games, when they enhance the immersion. Make it easier to feel part of the game (Wii nunchuck and controllers for example)

For ED specifically embracing Ipads, Kindles for coms/ trade/ news would be amazing..
Well W8 multitouch monitor. I don't have one. But If I would go for one. I would not replace and put in the same lokation. My current monitor is. 1,5x max stretch arm length view distance. That never gonna work for touch.

I would take into account specific task that can be done well on a touch screen.
I have some. sketches for UML diagrams. So if you use a few of those better fit for touch apps. Otherwise it use is from application point very useless. If typing is the main focus of use of PC touch isn't so relevant.

But if you have. Well it is a alternative optional use for keyboard mouse and monitor. So it ergonomical location is according to that what it as a HID demands. So specific orientation and distance to the user can be very important.

For casual touch use it just need to be close enough to the user, 50cm

If use is in long sessions. Touchsceen have the option to be tilted. some even completely to flat. My geuss is I would try 30 degrees tilted direct above the keyboard. It could even be placed between the standard monitor and keyboard.

A example would be that TV show startrek voyager wich is touchscreen centred. In startrek the next gen. The interface of the helm I think, is a near flat oriented panel the size of a monitor.

I got G19 logitec keyboard. So the screen would more replace that tiny screen. I also guess a to big screen would have a steper angle. Distance to monitor is 100cm. wich is far. G19 tiny display is 65cm
mouse is also in front of keyboard.

Optimal would be
Keyboard closer to user, mouse right of it.
touchscreen above it , tilted 25 to 45 degrees.
And above that the normal monitor.

It seams just like a huge Note book. More like a deskbook with a dock.

I had have a old centrino nootbook. Sometime even before tablet became popular. I did touch the screen, but offcource it doesn't work. So to me touch screen for phones tablets notobooks are natural for me. Now iPad1 ipad3 and is become normal to me very fast. Reading books I even want to touch scroll it.

But I am no typer. So a touchscreen keyboard would even also work for me to.
Claims like this I take with a pinch of salt until I see the actually product released. Partly because there are so many false rumours etc generated, but mostly because It's hard to believe that they would be dumb enough to make such an own throat cutting move.

If this does happen we will end up with two games industries. One will sell crap to fools, the other will cater for gamers. The former will make stupid amounts of profit, while the latter will have appreciative loyal customers receiving a small number of quality IPs, or average IPs at a very low cost. The people served by the latter group will most likely be Valve customers, users of steam, & customers of smaller, for PC, devs.
Not to draw attention and go 'see', but more to grow attention to the content of my overall concern (and disengagement) with AAA and the big games companies that i feel will ultimately 'destroy' gaming (and themselves). Xbone indeed!

It's all about the profit over the game now (and has been for the last decade or so) in the AAA space. Let's hope FD can sniff this and become smart devs, rather than snout-in-trough devs like so many others.
What for me would be new in games is action games where I don't get bored of it before I even get my money's worth.

Seems every action game I buy goes to that I am bored of this.

I think however ED will be that action game for me that will keep my interest. Basically I am seeing it has great depth.

So new in games should be added depth not graphics or tech, although that is nice to have too.
3D and head tracking

Touch screens on laptops... Ideal. Great...
3D glasses for PC games??? Why? this is utterly pure gadgetry and doesn't add enough.. HEAD TRACKING... and 3D well THAT IS a PROPER new thing.
This is an idea i have spent some time thinking about since 3D televisions was introduced as the next big thing a few years ago. I can't see it really every working for movies. Our vision is too complex. Many get dizzy and headaches, its a cool thing as a novelty, but for enjoyable entertainment there are at least two clashing factors here:

1. Our wish to explore a scene visually.
2. The way the director wants us to watch the movie.

A 3D movie will only have focus where the camera(s) was focused during shooting, with the depth of field desired, and all the other little factors that makes up a visual scene, but if the person wathing is trying to focus on something else, it's still out of focus and we get visually confused. The human eye has amazing abilities and flaws that make up our visual perception that we are technically very far away from capturing in a movie.

When/If its technically possible, then the artistry of making the movie will likely take a loss.

Some years ago, i had some ideas and thought experiments on how a combination of High-dynamic-range images (HDRI), light field imaging ( like from the https://www.lytro.com/) along with eye tracking could be combined into a more "real" experience when watching a still photo on a computer, something that would be possible already today.
At the time, i couldn't find a eye tracking solution that would work with a common web cam, but maybe i should dust off the idea and try it out, because now there apparently are.

In a real-time rendered 3D game, the limitations would be far less and possibilities would be interesting, imagine being able to change your focus from ship to HUD to planet, and the focal blur being rendered in-game real-time, the dynamic rage changing with your gaze.

Add to that your head tracking, then all we need is a high resolution spherical full immersion display for home use and a Cobra MKII cockpit.

Oh well, maybe some day...

I think the most important thing for any company is to stay true to it's ROOTS.
Especially if those ROOTS have bore much fruit and brand Loyalty.

Businesses get caught up with what sounds good but don't really look at what has made them successful all too often.

The Great people at Frontier are getting it spot on with Elite Dangerous and building on the ROOTS of old and growing a wondrous tree.

It's not so hard to see the forest spring up from the trees so long as the shrubbery does not block your view.

Thank you Frontier for doing the right thing...
Consumerism... as an IT guy the rise of tablets & smartphones caught me offguard - I saw the devices for what they were capable of, not for what they would be used for if that makes any sense.

Last night on tv I saw an advertisement for a new tablet game, but recognised the gameplay from something I played on the amiga - yeah with pretty graphics but still the same old game at core.

ps I want the ability to use my smartphone as an external monitor or weapons control interface for ED, yes embrace technology, but dont enforce it like requiring the kinect or to be online to use what you paid for.

(edit) @ Baron - Yep ROOTS, thats why I'm still beating myself with a stick for supporting egosoft.
I think the most important thing for any company is to stay true to it's ROOTS.
Especially if those ROOTS have bore much fruit and brand Loyalty.

Businesses get caught up with what sounds good but don't really look at what has made them successful all too often.
Isn't that how we have endless iterations of CoD/Battlefield/NFL blah blah blah.

I seriously hope that ED lives up to our expectations/hopes/dreams but I have my doubts.

I am very willing for FD to prove me wrong.

Please :)
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